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[ 20061130 ]

The Matter With Kansas (XVIII) - the True Significance of O mhcanismoz twn Antikuqhrwn

So, OK, Galileo didn't have a camera phone, but some ancient Greeks had a pretty decent analog computer; see also Scientists Unravel Mystery of Ancient Greek Machine.

Besides shutting down some conspiracy/revisionist history theories, since it's not such an unexplained mystery after all, I think the most important lesson to be drawn is in the final two paragraphs of John Noble Wilford's fine NYTimes story:

Dr. [François] Charette [of the University of Munich museum] noted that more than 1,000 years elapsed before instruments of such complexity are known to have re-emerged. A few artifacts and some Arabic texts suggest that simpler geared calendrical devices had existed, particularly in Baghdad around A.D. 900.

It seems clear, Dr. Charette said, that “much of the mind-boggling technological sophistication available in some parts of the Hellenistic and Greco-Roman world was simply not transmitted further,” adding, “The gear-wheel, in this case, had to be reinvented.”

There's a world of difference between having a few smart guys around -- even guys as smart as Hipparchos of Rhodes, "who ... might have had a hand in designing the device" -- and having perpetuated institutions dedicated to preserving and transmitting accumulated tecne. Science has no functional existence apart from such institutions.

(As dramatic as the Antikythera Mechanism is, comparable examples exist from other cultures. Bruce Bolt's Earthquakes and Geological Discovery, part of the Scientific American Library series, notes that this passage is a strikingly modern description of the action of a strike-slip fault. But the insight of Zechariah son of Berechiah son of Iddo did not jump-start the science of geology; the requisite institutions did not exist. Similarly, Manfred Schroeder notes in Fractals, Chaos, Power Laws: Minutes from an Infinite Paradise that Pharaoh's dream describes actual events resulting from the "black noise" spectrum of the Nile (f-b, where b > 2). No sudden advance in mathematics resulted -- there was no institution capable of capitalizing on Joseph's interpretation.)

An immediate corollary of this idea is that an attack on science is not an attack on a set of findings; it is an attack on institutions. Science as we know it did not exist in classical times (science falsely so called, indeed), because its institutions did not exist; and opposition to it now, with such shallow motivations as those we see in the ongoing conflict in Kansas, is an ironic and singularly unfortunate violation of this wise admonition.

(Previous member of series here; separately, the esteemed Bill Walker of Mayo points me to Kansas Outlaws Practice of Evolution.)

PS - Hey, there's a song about it!

Jay Manifold [2:16 PM]

[ 20061129 ]

For Your Listening Pleasure

Pluto's Not A Planet Anymore.

Hat tip: Neta Apple, ASKC.

Jay Manifold [1:50 PM]

[ 20061127 ]

Texas Star Party Reservations Open

Here is the text, modified so as to embed the links, of an e-mail I just received:

2007 Texas Star Party - Sign up Now!

The great tradition of dark sky observing continues with the 29th Annual TEXAS STAR PARTY, May 13 - 20, 2007! TSP WILL NOT BE MAILING A FLYER this year, so keep this e-mail or print it out!

Note: If you have already filled out the TSP form and received a reply email with your choices, then there is no need to submit another form.

  1. You should submit a Registration/Reservation Request Form to ENTER THE TSP DRAWING before January 20, 2007. This will provide you the highest possible chance of being selected as one of the 700 people who will be able to attend TSP this year.

    Or fill out the Request Form immediately, but READ THE REST OF THIS E-MAIL BEFORE SUBMITTING YOUR REQUEST.

  2. Participants at the TEXAS STAR PARTY can select from a variety of accommodations on the Prude Ranch, including bunkhouses, private cabins, trailer hookups, and campsites with convenient bathhouses. All accommodations include access to a TV lounge, a western-style dining room, and an indoor swimming pool. And of course the convenience of the observing fields!

    Rates and more information on ranch and nearby accommodations.

  3. The TSP Registration Fee (DOES NOT INCLUDE your accommodations) is $50/person if you pre-register before April 7, 2007. (Each additional family member is just $30 more.)

    More information about TSP registration rates and policies.

    The drawing for names is in late January, and if your name is drawn you will get a link to a TSP Registration Form (and optional Prude Ranch Reservation Form) to send in with your payments in February/March. SIGN UP NOW!

Questions? Visit our web site or e-mail for the latest and complete details!

We look forward to seeing you next May!

the volunteers for Texas Star Party

Jay Manifold [9:26 PM]

[ 20061126 ]

Top Ten Astronomical Outreach Events for 2007

In any given year, amateur astronomers have numerous excellent opportunities to present astronomy to the public, which are a combination of several factors:

Here are some outreach opportunities for 2007, ranked by increasing distance, beginning with terrestrial events and ending with deep-sky observation. Information is derived from websites linked below and from the Observer’s Handbook 2007, Space.com, the US Naval Observatory, and YourSky; it is somewhat specific to the KC area, but can easily be modified for your location.

  1. Astronomy Day – Saturday, April 21st.

  2. Heart of America Star Party – Thursday, June 14th through Sunday, June 17th.

  3. Meteor Showers – Of the sixteen major annual meteor showers, three will be especially prominent and easy to observe (weather permitting!):

    • Lyrids – Sunday, April 22nd, starting around 9:30 PM CDT.

    • Perseids – Sunday, August 12th, starting around 9:00 PM CDT.

    • Geminids – Thursday, December 13th, starting around 7:30 PM CST.

  4. Space Launches – As of this writing, the following three scheduled launches, all from Cape Canaveral, should generate media attention for astronomy:

    • Dawn – Wednesday, June 20th; asteroid probe.

    • Phoenix – Friday, August 3rd; Mars polar lander.

    • GLAST – Sunday, October 7th; Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope.

  5. Lunar Eclipses – We are excellently positioned to see portions of two total lunar eclipses next year. The first is particularly well-scheduled from a public-outreach standpoint and may be the single biggest event of the year at Powell Observatory (again, weather permitting):

    • Saturday, March 3rd – In progress at moonrise (6:11 PM CST at Louisburg); umbral phase ends at 7:11 PM CST.

    • Tuesday, August 28th – Umbral phase begins at 3:51 AM CDT and ends at 7:23 AM CDT, but note that civil twilight begins at 6:17 and sunrise is at 6:44 in Louisburg.

  6. Inner Planets

    • Mercury – Relatively easy to find after sunset in early February and early June, and before sunrise in mid-November.

    • Venus – Prominent after sunset for nearly six months beginning in mid-February; it will be a large, thin crescent in telescopes in July and early August.

  7. Mars

    • We may expect the usual avalanche of e-mails informing us of a spectacular – but, alas, nonexistent – apparition of Mars to occur on August 27th. Respond tactfully.

    • In reality, the planet’s closest approach will be in December, specifically on Wednesday the 19th. Opposition is on Christmas Eve; the planet should be a centerpiece of public viewing throughout the month and into early 2008.

  8. Outer Planets

    • Jupiter – At its best from late spring through early autumn. Double shadow transits that could be visible here will occur on Saturday, June 9th (4:18 AM CDT); Sunday, October 28th (6:34 PM CDT); and Tuesday, November 13th (5:30 PM CST).

    • Saturn – At its best from February through July; quoting Observer’s Handbook 2007 (page 90): “Saturn is at quadrature in the second week of May. This is when the planet’s shadow on the rings is most prominent and Saturn looks most three-dimensional.”

    • Uranus – In early September, naked-eye visible (magnitude +5.7) in dark skies near 4th-magnitude f Aqr.

  9. Conjunctions and Occultations

    • On Thursday, April 26th, at 7:45 PM CDT, Venus will occult the star SAO 76929/ZC 753 (magnitude +7.4).

    • On Saturday, May 19th, Venus will occult the star SAO 78893 (magnitude +8.9), with the waxing crescent Moon (only 12% of its visible disk will be illuminated) nearby.

    • On the evening of Monday, June 18th, the waxing crescent Moon (15%) and Saturn will be very close together.

    • The evening of Monday, July 16th – the 38th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11 – will feature a binocular grouping of the very young crescent Moon (6%), Venus, Saturn, and Regulus.

    • During the first week of September, Saturn and Regulus will be only about 1° apart, low in the east just before sunrise.

    • In mid-October, Venus, Saturn, and Regulus will be close together in the morning sky.

    • On the morning of Saturday, November 3rd, the waning crescent Moon (32%) will be very close to Regulus – this will be an occultation in the southern US – with Saturn nearby.

    • On Monday, November 5th, at around 2:00 PM CST, Venus will be naked-eye visible in daylight due to being just 3° north of the waning crescent Moon (15%), both about 45° west of the Sun.

    • On Sunday, December 23rd, at 9:00 PM CST, the full Moon will be very close to Mars – this will be an occultation in the northwestern US.

  10. Messier Marathon – Saturday/Sunday, March 17th/18th

A chronological listing might look like this:

  1. January – no events

  2. February

    • Observe Mercury after sunset early in month

  3. March

    • 3 (Sat) – lunar eclipse in progress at moonrise/sunset

    • 17/18 (Sat/Sun) – Messier Marathon

    • 24/25 (Sat/Sun) – Messier Marathon backup date

  4. April

    • 21 (Sat) – Astronomy Day

    • 22 (Sun) – Lyrid meteor shower

    • 26 (Thu) – Venus occults star

  5. May

    • 6-12 (2nd week) – Saturn at quadrature

    • 19 (Sat) – Venus occults star; Moon nearby

  6. June

    • Observe Mercury after sunset early in month

    • 9 (Sat; morning) – Double shadow transit on Jupiter

    • 14-17 (Thu-Sun) – Heart of America Star Party

    • 18 (Mon) – Moon/Saturn conjunction

    • 20 (Wed) – Launch of Dawn asteroid probe

  7. July

    • 16 (Mon) – Binocular grouping of Moon, Venus, Saturn, and Regulus

  8. August

    • 3 (Fri) – Launch of Phoenix Mars polar lander

    • 12 (Sun) – Perseid meteor shower

    • 28 (Tue; morning) – lunar eclipse

  9. September

    • 2-8 (1st week; morning) – Saturn/Regulus conjunction

    • Observe Uranus naked-eye early in month

  10. October

    • 7 (Sun) – Launch of GLAST gamma-ray large-area space telescope

    • Venus/Saturn/Regulus conjunction at mid-month

    • 28 (Sun) – Double shadow transit on Jupiter

  11. November

    • 3 (Sat; morning) – Moon/Regulus conjunction; Saturn nearby

    • 5 (Mon; afternoon) – Moon/Venus conjunction; Venus naked-eye visible in daylight

    • 13 (Tue) – Double shadow transit on Jupiter

    • Observe Mercury before sunrise at mid-month

  12. December

    • 13 (Thu) – Geminid meteor shower

    • 19 (Wed) – Mars at closest approach

    • 23 (Sun) – Moon/Mars conjunction

    • 24 (Mon) – Mars at opposition

Jay Manifold [4:00 PM]

[ 20061114 ]

Leonid Meteor Shower This Weekend

Graze on over to the International Meteor Organization's October to December 2006 page and skip down a bit:

This year may bring a return to still higher Leonid activity, perhaps with ZHRs of 100—150. The timing above (Maximum: November 17, 20h50m UT [Fri 17 Nov, 2:50 PM CST]) is for the nodal crossing, and if recent past years are a guide, any associated activity near then may be swamped by other filaments within the stream. The prediction of higher (though not storm!) rates from the 1933 filament by Rob McNaught and David Asher is timed for November 19, 4h45m UT [Sat 18 Nov, 10:45 PM CST].

Here's where the radiant will be -- in the head of Leo, which looks like a large backwards question mark; click on image for full-size (640 × 480) map:

At my latitude (~40° N), the radiant will be rising in the east-northeast around 11 PM CST. If the prediction quoted by the IMO holds up, the first hour or two of Saturday night's portion of the shower may be spectacular for observers in the eastern half of North America.

(Previous mentions of the Leonid shower on Arcturus occur in the unimaginatively-titled posts Leonid Observing Reports?, which recounts the brief but overwhelming meteor storm of '02, and Leonid Observing Report, from 2003.)

Jay Manifold [3:06 PM]

[ 20061110 ]

“Look the storm in the eye”

Look in, look out, look around ...

This 14-frame movie [551 kB *.mpg] shows a swirling cloud mass centered on the south pole, around which winds blow at 550 kilometers (350 miles) per hour. The frames have been aligned to make the planet appear stationary, while the sun appears to revolve about the pole in a counterclockwise direction. The clouds inside the dark, inner circle are lower than the surrounding clouds, which cast a shadow that follows the sun.

Main story here; movie and caption here.

We twist the world and ride the wind ...

Jay Manifold [3:04 PM]

Redshift Productions

Via The Scientist, I found Redshift Productions, complete with Jovian dog (page down, and ponder what Simak would think). I'm adding them to the blogroll under "Info Sites."

"Our tribe gives no brownie points for communicating with the public," says Carl Djerassi. Time to start handing them out; see the book referenced in my slightly out-of control post The Matter With Kansas (VIII) - Teach the Controversy!, and also this summary of the book's key points.

But I digress. Go get 'em, Redshift.

Jay Manifold [1:32 PM]

[ 20061108 ]

Transit of Mercury, Photoblogged

We deliver. Click on the images for full-size (2288 × 1712; ~500 kB *.jpg) versions.

shortly after ingress; Mercury is at ~1:30 position on the Sun's disk

Manifold Observatory (foreground); Powell Observatory (background)

a bit farther along; note sunspot at top

near greatest transit (blur at left center is image artifact)

just before sunset; planet visible at 1:30 position halfway from center to edge

Jay Manifold [8:02 PM]

Oh, All Right

This is me during the event. Telescope is described here; solar filter is from HMS Beagle in Parkville. All photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 4800, handheld.

Also, happy 350th, Edmund Halley.

Jay Manifold [8:02 PM]

[ 20061105 ]

The Transit of Mercury

-- is Wednesday. Diagram here; map of visibility for North American observers here. Locally, it starts at 1:12 PM CST, with the Sun 32° above the horizon; greatest transit is at 3:40 PM CST, with the sun 14° above the horizon; and transit ends at sunset (5:10 PM CST).

I am taking the day off to observe it -- weather forecast, as of 72 hours out, is highly favorable, but I want to be able to drive some distance if needed to get clear skies. I will post an update here if there is any organized event at either Powell or Warkoczewski Observatories.

Persons in the US wishing to find out about local observing should contact the nearest club. Finally, the transit will be viewable online at:

Hat tips: Dr Eric Flescher of the ASKC and Francis Reddy of Astronomy.

UPDATE: At least two ASKCers, one of whom is me, will be at Powell Observatory for the event.

Jay Manifold [2:28 PM]

[ 20061101 ]

What I Said Then

For All Saints' Day, that is.

Jay Manifold [5:03 PM]